World War II
Soar with vets on 'Liberty Belle' bomber
Hollow bombs and harmless Brownings over Tucson
From Aug. 12, 1943 until their last mission on April 20, 1945, the fighting men of the 390th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force flew thousands of missions bombing military targets all across Western Europe.
Air crews of nine or 10 men aboard the B-17 Flying Fortress bombers suffered temperatures as low as -60 degrees Fahrenheit during missions lasting more than 11 hours in some cases, as well as enemy anti-aircraft fire and fighters to destroy factories, missile batteries, shipyards and munitions depots deep inside Axis lines.
B-17 pilot Col. Richard Bushong, 86, is a Tucsonan who flew 28 combat missions over Europe during World War II. Monday, Bushong was on hand at Tucson International Airport with the Liberty Bell Foundation's flying museum, the B-17 "Liberty Belle," to talk about his experiences.
Bushong flew on seven different B-17s while in Europe, spending the most time on "Geronimo."
"I did some research after the war and found out that all but one [of the bombers] was destroyed after I flew them," Bushong said. Only a bomber called "Johnny Walker" returned to the U.S. after the war.
B-17s like "Liberty Belle" were generally praised for their durability. Bushong recalled returning from a mission over Germany on April 13, 1944, where his plane suffered critical damage over Brussels, Belgium on three of its four engines and lost the brakes on his landing gear completely.
Bushong, his crew and his bomber made it back to England, and had to veer off the runway and into thick mud to bring the plane to a stop.
Andy Anzanos, another B-17 veteran, served as a flight engineer and top turret gunner. Anzanos recalled some of the challenges of flying an earlier version of the B-17.
"The B-17G was totally enclosed. We flew a modified B-17F that had open windows and had a chin turret. We had a hard time keeping up with the more aerodynamic bombers in the group," he said.
"We lost an engine deep in Germany and couldn't keep up with the group," Anzanos said, "so we ran for the clouds and stayed there."
"The clouds were with us all the way back to the [English] Channel," he said.
As a flight engineer, Anzanos was responsible for making sure the bomber was in good working order before flight, as well as for dealing with in-flight emergencies.
Anzanos said he once had to go back into the bomb bay and kick out bombs stuck in the rack.
The 390th Bomb Group lost 670 men, according to Anzanos, and had 731 downed men taken as prisoner over the course of the war.
"Liberty Belle," the Liberty Bell Foundation's flying B-17, is similar to the aircraft Anzanos and Bushong flew.
The airplane, one of 14 B-17s known to be still flying, will be on display at the air show this weekend, and is available for public flights March 19-21. Booking arrangements can be made by calling 918-340-0243. Flights cost $430, $390 for foundation members.